Tuesday, May 09, 2006

My Martial Arts Journey - Part 5: A Ronin Finds A Home

For many years after my shodan exam, I wandered from dojo to dojo looking for a new sensei. Since Daito ryu wasn’t taught in Georgia, I tried a number of martial arts instead: Choi Kwan Do, Tae Kwon Do, Judo, Shorin ryu Karate, and Brazilian jujutsu. All said they were the best. All affiliated themselves with someone famous, e.g. Chuck Norris or Steven Seagal.


Many tried to make me sign a contract as soon as I set foot in their ‘studio’. To me, this was an insult to the martial traditions. On one particular instance, I got angry with a Tae Kwon Do/Jujutsu teacher who challenged his senior student against me. The teacher demanded I sign a contract, after working out with his students. I refused. The senior student was a black belt in Tae Kwon Do/Jujutsu and I guess he was looking for a challenge. So…I obliged him.

Rule number 1: If you’re serious about a challenge, you better be serious about your attacks.

This young man (probably 19 years old) did a nice demonstration of tornado kicks, side kicks, front and back kicks, and a round-house kick. I smiled as he finished. His last words were, “So, can you beat that?”

Rule number 2: Someone’s going to get hurt.

I punched him in the gut with a shuto strike, knocking the wind out him. I then grabbed his right hand and put him in nikkyo (inverted pressure on his hand). Gasping for air, he tapped out. I let him go.

Rule number 3: As soon as you defeat the challenger, bow, grab your bag, and walk out of the dojo, butt-first.

I could tell the angry stares, from the instructor and his students, was a direct sign for me to get outta Dodge.

I went home very discouraged.

This kinda thing went on until about 1994 or 1995. My wife recommended that I contact some of the local colleges to see if they had any public classes. I contacted both Kennesaw College and Georgia Tech to see if they had anything. No luck. I then desperately phoned Georgia State University’s, Department of Recreation, to see if they had a Jujutsu or Aikido club. And, they did!

The sensei of the Aikido club was Roy Coker. I left a message for Mr. Coker to call me. I didn’t have my hopes high, but I was curious. Mr. Coker called me two days later. We talked about our different backgrounds and then he invited me downtown (Atlanta) to workout with the club.

Side Note Number 1: As a black belt, it is respectful to always ask the instructor what color belt to wear before class begins. Don’t automatically assume that you should wear your black belt! Tradition states you should wear your white belt until you prove yourself worthy OR the instructor gives permission to change to black.

Side Note Number 2: I first learned about Aikido several years earlier while doing some lineage research on Daito ryu Jujutsu. I was intrigued to find that Aikido is a derivative of Daito ryu. The modern sensei of Daito ryu, Sokaku Takeda, taught Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido.

That next Saturday morning, I was at Georgia State University (GSU) to begin my study of Aikido. I felt excited yet comfortable. Mr. Coker did an excellent job of making me feel welcome among the students. We did some warm-ups, then Sensei Coker asked if I wanted to do ukemi (break-falls), with him acting as nage (defender) and me as uke (attacker).

I learned that the Aikido style, that Sensei Coker taught, was a soft-style similar to Ueshiba’s. The techniques were very similar to Daito ryu, so I caught on quickly. Soon after, Sensei Coker asked me to demonstrate Daito ryu techniques and explain the differences between it and Aikido. I did this for about 30 minutes.

At the end of class, Sensei Coker asked me to wear my black belt and become one of his assistants. We became very good friends and attended many Aikido seminars together. I was blessed to meet such Aikido sensei as Yoshimitsu Yamada Sensei, from the New York Aikikai (direct student of Ueshiba); Rodney Grantham Sensei, from North Carolina (who founded the Aikido Center of Atlanta); and George Kennedy Sensei, who is the head Sensei at Aikido Center of Atlanta.

In 2000, Georgia State University made a decision to end the Aikido club. They wanted only GSU students and faculty to teach/run the club; no outsiders. Thus, Sensei Coker was forced to end the club. I last heard from him in 2001.

I don’t consider myself a ronin anymore. For in November of 1999, I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior and haven’t the want for martial training since. Besides, I now have two boys who are now walking in their father’s footsteps.

My oldest son, who is nine, is now a green belt at TLC Tae Kwon Do (TKD) at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church. He loves it and his teacher, Master Terry Wassink. She does a fantastic job of teaching TKD with the primary emphasis of knowing Christ. All classes begin and end with prayer. Master Wassink’s instructors, Masters William Lenix and Candy Lenix, are wonderful Christians as well. We consider Master Terry, Masters Lenix (including their son, Master Mitt), and classmates, family. We care for them very much. My son takes TKD training with much discipline and is always eager to learn.

I will never forget the first time my oldest son tested for his yellow belt. Master William Lenix asked him his goals for TKD. He replied, “I want to be just like my dad, who is a black belt as well.”

And thus, a new journey begins.

Bullying still affects me when I see it in the news or hear about it personally. There’s something now ingrained in me to take up the fight for the innocent. I’ve never backed down from a challenge and refuse to let a bully get their way. (Remember Rule Number 2?)

My oldest son experienced bullying a couple years ago in school. My wife did her best to calm me down after telling me the situation. She knew the lion in me was about to get loose. Thankfully, she handled the situation very well by nipping it in the bud. Nobody bullies this lion’s cubs. Nobody.

After studying the martial arts for many years, and knowing Christ now for many years, I can honestly say that both go together very well. When my wife and I looked for a martial art for our son to do, Christ had to be first. I was very concerned (and I still am) that the martial arts often drift into false religions.

We chose TLC Tae Kwon Do for both it’s Christian emphasis and motivating students to do their best. Our son’s confidence level has improved very much, while also maintaining a level of discipline (respect, listening, and patience).

I will have to admit that I sometimes have a hard time watching my son spar (light contact fighting), whether in class or in a tournament. I find myself sitting on my hands and gritting my teeth trying not to overdo the coaching. Master William Lenix, who has been in the martial arts a lot longer than I, tells me to let my son do his thing and don’t push him too hard. Yes, he really knows me.

Part 6: Web links to my martial art and more darn opinion.
(I mean, c’mon, all martial artists have opinions…)

1 comment:

John Vesia said...

Hello Mark. I put "martial arts" into a search engine and found your site. Years ago, I attended a seminar in the NY area that featured, among other things, a Daito-ryu workshop. The instructor was a 7th dan and worked for the NYPD. It was very impressive; you know an art is combat effective when it's field tested in law enforcement. I do karate, but I've dabbled in other styles. The fusing of Christianity with martial arts is interesting, I must say. Like you, I see red at the thought of "bullying", especially when the victim is a loved one or family member (I have three sons). Be well.